Mark Thomas/Jonny Walker Vs Councillor Abdul Hai

PUBLISHED by the Camden New Journal, by Richard Osley on 24/10/13

ONE of Camden’s most senior politicians was ambushed by busking campaigners, including the comedian Mark Thomas, as he tried to film a television interview defending a new licensing policy.

Community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai was in the middle of an interview with BBC London when Mr Thomas and campaigner Jonny Walker jumped in and called for a re-think.

They accused the council of not having enough evidence to justify new controls on busking.

Cllr Hai had decided to allow the interview to be filmed just yards from the scene of a demonstration against plans to demand all buskers obtain a licence to perform in Camden’s streets and a move to ban amplified and wind instruments.

Billy Bragg and Bill Bailey had been among the crowd singing ‘We will overcome’ outside Camden Town tube station.

This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

9 Comments on "Mark Thomas/Jonny Walker Vs Councillor Abdul Hai"

  • There is a middle ground solution to be had here and it is found in the approach taken by Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon in relation to ‘noise nuiscance’ and street performing.

    I speak as a ‘serious’ Street Performer up here for 3 years now and I can honestly say that councils in both places, have successfully managed to avoid ‘draconian’ policy and serve
    the interests of Street Performers whilst protecting shops residents etc on this issue.

    The position that this twin town and city situated at the heart of England have taken is basically a ‘liberal’ pluralistic one and it is one with which I strongly agree.

    Once more I state ‘Councils’ up here uphold the ancient right to freedoms to perform on the street whilst recognising the very ‘real’ problem of noise nuiscance that can not only plague shops, offices, residents etc but can also trouble other performers as well.

    Birmingham did at one stage adopt ‘auditons’ as a measure to curb this problem. In this context I am at odds with the leadership of the ASAP to the extent that they insist that such practices are ‘elitist’.

    My retort is that ‘auditions’ pose more a ‘beauracratic’ nuiscance but are not necessarily ‘elitist’ because in Birmingham they were demonstably used and effective in ‘sifting’ out specific ‘problem’ performers.

    However for me the ‘overall’ best solution and by far the ‘fairest’ was in the introduction of City Warden/ Town Host schemes. This kind of ‘middle-way’ civic solution to street performer noise nuiscancehas worked excellently in both Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon.

    Shops have been protected form certain performers ( more irresponsible, egotistical, ignorant etc ) whilst a burdgeoning creative street art scene has been preserved.

    I support this civic arrangement on the grounds that whilst performers quite rightly desire freedom and spontaneity of performance it is only fair that surrounding shops etc have ‘spontaneous’ access to some help if and when noise problems do crop up. ‘Call and Response’ style city management seem to do the trick.

    Over insistance on relying on existing noise pollution law does not offer a sufficiently ‘immediate’ remedy to victims of noise excess.
    Such actions can be a too long drawn out process beauracratically cumbersome for all concerned. Warden schemes or with good communication ‘Community’ police intervenion
    are the best solution.

    Conditions obviously do vary from place to place and I can see that there maybe no ‘catch-all’ solution for every town, city and place in the country. However looking at the Camden situation as an ‘outsider’ ( neigh inerested and concerned onlooker ) I strongly believe that reason can prevail and a solution for all parties concerned can be found.

    I cite Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon as good models of liberal and ‘progressive’ policy because I’ve witnessed in both of these places a kind of ‘benign’ and free order emerge out of ‘potential’ chaos. It has taken a lot of carefully built ‘trust’ on all sides.

    For me its a ‘truism’ that when people can successfully ‘police’ themselves ( and I eagerly await that day! ) well ‘then’ let anarchy reign.

    Until then liberal ‘plural’ policy solutions appear the only realisic solution – they are often a long and difficult road to climb, demanding much talk, debate and ‘mutual’ understanding, but when reached, I for one have seen they do work!.

    • * Caution here though. I do write here about Individual responsibility and accountability and I do mention places like Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon and how Town Host/Warden Scheme’s can work well as a readily accessible ‘call/response’ method for dealing with ‘immediate’ noise problems afflicting shops, offices etc.

      However as a means to dealing with the abject ‘discrimination’, and petty minded grievances that ‘often’ best Street Performers ( eg. people like myself ) then Town Host/Warden Schemes are not such an ideal solution. There is according to my experience a ‘detectable’ bias I would argue when it comes to dealing with the complaints of ‘buskers’ towards some town/city businesses.

      There is a very clear lack of accountability for shopowners, retail managers etc when they themselves are guilty of abusing ‘buskers’ and mistreating Street Performers.

  • In relation to the the tried and tested strategy of applying liberal ‘pluralistic’ models as solutions to problems such as street performing and ‘noise’ nuiscance ( see above ) I’ve come across
    2 major obstacles to progress here.

    1. The first hurdle to overcome to ensure the liberal ‘pluralistic’ process works as it should for all parties is to do with questions of Street Performers achieving actual status, recognition and respect in the first place.

    In what quite properly, ought to be a ‘negotiation’ process not
    some hasty, draconian, bulldozing of policy by a bias ridden, and perhaps simply ‘narrow’minded/petty minded Council.

    I see that performers are facing this kind of problem of actually achieving bargainin ‘status’ in the eyes of the council in Camden

    2. The 2nd obstacle to progress along liberal ‘plural’ lines I have come across out there on the streets concerns issues of ‘trust’ between performer, complainent and ‘official’ eg sent out to supposedly to ‘mediate’ a problem.

    During my earlier stages of playing in Stratford upon Avon a major
    complainant on one of the ‘prime’ busking spots was an American
    owner of the then Shakespeare Bookshop. ( It mysteriously closed
    down a few months later ! ).

    She constantly complained about me playing Classical Guitar in the area and requested ‘Town Hosts’ deal with the situation. I vacated the spot without much fuss thinking after rationalising ok its is a bookshop opposite and this is a ‘reasonable’ request for me to leave, only to return later to find a 5 piece rock group
    ( drums an’ all ) playing in the same spot without any complaint from the bookseller.

    After investigation it turned out that not only did she have a personal grudge against me, but that she had made a no of other
    ‘spurious’ complaints against various performers in a random, ad-hoc manner. Even the cafe next door had experienced problems with her. Its seemed as tho’ she just seemed to enjoy
    making people squirm!

    Its also turned out that she and her husband had played with an American ‘minor’ league pop group in the 60s and it was posited that thismay have ‘coloured’ here attitude to the likes of me and what I was doing.

    Anyway the point here, is that it can become a contentious
    issue determining the actual truth and accuracy of a complaint.
    This does take a lot of common-sense and trust, and in some
    instances to get it right, it takes some ‘experience’ also.

    In conclusion, creative problem solving of both of these kind of obstacle , ( and at least one seems to be a major hurdle in Camden i.e. status in the eyes of the council ) is necessary for
    the liberal ‘pluralistic’ model to work and solve problems between
    performers, complainants and council authorities especially to
    overcome the key issue of ‘noise’ nuiscance ( excessive volume
    levels etc ).

  • One more key point for consideration to do with the issue of ‘just’ complaints is one I’ve seen brought to light by another commentator. That is if you don’t like the urban din and noise of the city then why go and live in a city centre ( or established busy area ) in the first place?

    In Birmingham the issue came to the fore during the city develpment boom of the New Labour years. A favorite ‘music’ pub set up by a CBSO violinist and ‘fellow’ of Birmingham Conservatoire was forced to close down after legal action by a Property Developer.

    The pub off Broad Street ( Birminghams Night Club Zone – the equivalent of a place like Soho London ) was absurdly served
    a writ on the grounds of environmental noise pollution. It was
    complained that the pub upset local residents ( ‘new’ occupants
    of recently developed flats ).

    I agree with others, its does’nt make sense that people move into
    city centre areas ( and the like ) only to then complain of the noise. Should we be interfering with the established cultural norms of city centres, socially re-engineering its cultures so as to accommodate new developments and their residents?.

    This kind of process seems to fly in the face of both reason and fairness. Is this a case of Property millionaires benefitting at the expense of our cities established ‘poorer’ workers. Surely there
    must be some way around this kind of absurdity eg. installing the latest building sound-proofing technology!

  • A final point worth thinking about, this issue certainly applies in Birmingam and Stratford upon Avon is the existence of ‘sensitive’
    playing areas.

    There are zones in Stratford upon Avon eg near the Shakespeare Centre where performing can cause a ‘direct’ nuiscance during the
    day ( during lecture tours etc ) but during the evening its fine to
    play there. In Birmingham the issue of ‘sensitive’ spots crops up too, certain ‘offices’ can be particularly disturbed by busking noise during the working day.

    In Camden it could be worth considering whether some residents may have a ‘special’ case to make regards noise intrusion by Street Performers. Obviously these kinds of ‘sensitive’ issues can only be brought to light during ‘proper’ negotiated proceedings between council officials and interested parties.

  • Can I also state outright here that Camden council are completely wrong in simply targeting ‘amplification’ as a solution to ‘noise’ nusciance.

    To ban amp use is one of those petty policies that incenses many bona-fide performers like me who know from experience that is not only an ‘unfair’ way to solve the problem of excessive noise levels it is not that effective.

    Common sense dictates that in actual fact ‘noise’ nuiscance is in the hands of the ‘ego’ of the performer rather than due to the
    use of ‘amplification’.

    ‘Acoustic’ bagpipes for example are much louder ‘naturally’ than an ‘amplified’ classical guitar ( my instrument ) and especially when played by a selfish so and so with big ego and self esteem
    ( or by a performer who is just downright ignorant or perhaps irresponsible)

    The truth is that ‘noise’ nuiscance is’nt just a phenomenon that plagues shops, offices or residents it can have a ‘negative’ impact on other performers too.

    Countless times I’ve been drowned out by violins, sax’s, brass etc and yes its very annoying but I realise the answer is not simply to ban these instruments. The only just and fair policy in such instances is to make ‘individual’ performers and their ‘egos’ reponsible for malpractice on the streets.

    There are some ‘purists’ out there who claim ‘acoustic’ means traditional. On closer examination though this proves to be another on of those rather empty headed arguments, its simply just petty thinking.

    The main purpose for a devoloping artist like me going out to perform is to genuinely entertain and whenever possible to ‘spiritually’ uplift through the expression of ‘authentic’ art and beauty.

    Mine is not just empty posturing as some kind of ‘traditional’ musican, for me this is ‘seriously’ about art in its very ‘modern’ form and variety. And I use amplification at a reasonable level to enhance my act not merely to prop it up or show off. The truth is the best acts do and this and the ‘no amp’ policy recently adopted by Camden tragically keeps out some of the best musicians.

    I play romantic cafe guitar with the emphasis on beatiful mood and atmosphere. I do understand the problem of noise nuiscance so I personally take great care to use the amp only to take my volume just up to concert level, a level where I can compete with other ‘acoustic’ instruments ( much louder than mine) as well as cut through the urban din and ‘natural’ noise of the city, street cleaning vans, traffic and all.

    The fairest busking code is one that takes into account these factors, tackles nuiscance without penalising the better more conscientious players , and encourages and fosters a ‘creative’ community spirit that is a benefit to us all, recognising the value of Street Performers, the public, residents, shops, all alike.

    As for the troublemakers out there, the ‘noise’ nuiscances actually afflicting peoples lives, simply target them, not everyone else. All this is a matter of ‘effective’ policing and fair-minded, well thought out town/highstreet management.

  • * My response to Camden Town resident writer Jessica Kranish’s
    support of Camden Councils ‘ decision to enforce stricter rules
    on busking….’ ( see article in the Ham and High Nov 29 2013 ).

    * My Response

    An additional ‘good’ idea with regards this issue of noise nuiscance and street performers would be for Performers, Councillors, all ‘interested’ parties alike to get together and to properly investigate residents claims of ‘noise’ excess.

    Whilst I find myself agreeing with the sentiments of the commentator above ie. what do residents expect if they move
    into a city centre or pre-established busy area?, I do understand that there may still be specially ‘sensitive’ areas to take into account when considering the legitemacy of ‘busking’ spots.

    Not only the existence of residential homes in the vicinity etc but also ‘ordinary’ residents with substandard window installations etc as a result of ‘neglectful’ Landlords could be taken into account.

    London is an ‘expensive’ place to live and maybe people move to Camden for cheaper rents and prices, or for other circumstantial reasons, I don’t know, only by speaking to individuals can you find
    out. So I believe in all fairness it would be apt to find out if residents do indeed have a case to answer for, before merely dismissing them.

    Of course in this age of Multi-million pound property development I think the onus should be on the ‘tycoons’ ( & the rich landlords ) to invest in latest building sound proofing technology if they intend to build in the city centres and create a ‘new’ and expanding market of city-centre dwellers.

    You can’t expect generations of ‘poorer’ city centre workers eg Street Artists and Performers to simply be pushed out easily and the norms of city centre ( busy area ) culture socially re-engineered just like that.

  • * Postscript

    Note I do not wish to put myself on a pedestal by talking about the ‘better’ street-performers out there ironically being ‘kept out’ by petty minded council policy.

    What I do want to emphasis here is that the best players I have
    seen out there on the streets would certainly be ‘excluded’ by Camden Councils pretty one-sided ‘draconian’ policy towards busking. And for me this is a tragedy!.

  • * Postscript

    Looking ahead, into the future we need to be thinking about
    not only ‘social’ justice’ issues in relation to the use ( and
    abuse ) of ‘public’ space we also need to concern ourselves more positively with popular cultural ‘progress’ on the streets of our towns and cities.

    It is possible to ‘transform’ thecultural spirit, atmosphere, public mood of a place through eg. ‘music’ but we do need the help of the best muscians out there to do this.

    And of course if these more rarer souls ‘the good ones’ are not to be found out there in our communities we need to create the ‘conditions’ where we can nurture them.

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